At the Oscars this year Samsung paid $20 million dollars to ABC for advertising and product placement. Ellen, the host, prominently used a Samsung phone during the broadcast to tweet pictures and updates. The preplanned Oscar selfie that was quickly retweeted by thousands was a paid product placement.
Product placements are not new. Coca-cola clearly is on display during American Idol broadcasts and Chrysler cars are used during all the NCIS shows. Paying for influence is taken for granted on television shows. Of course paying for influence is not only experienced on television. Companies employ lobbyists on “K” street to influence politicians in Washington and sometimes write the legislation. Boeing crafted the talking points recently for a Washington politician and she did not successfully hide that her speech was written on Boeing letterhead. Senator Murray denies getting her talking points from Boeing, but her statements are unconvincing to many people.
There recently was a news story about Elevation church. Elevation produced a document titled, “Spontaneous Baptisms — A How-To Guide” and the church
shared it freely on the Sun Stand Still website. It would appear that Elevation plants people in visible seats to “spontaneously” get up and encourage others to go forward to be baptized. After being baptized at Elevation, people receive a t-shirt and bumper sticker to influence others.
I want people to be influenced by the love of God in Christ Jesus revealed on the cross and the empty tomb. I want people to love because they have first been loved. Here is something I think I think: People will see through the inauthentic paid influence of those who peddle a product because they have been paid to market the product. I think people are hungry for an authentic message of hope that is true and wasn’t just paid to sound true. I do not think people will see through the lies on their own. We are sinners and we are attracted to lies like a moth to a bright light. As a pastor I know that I must trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in the Word of God to reveal the truth and hope of the good news of Jesus. The gimmicks, lies, and deceptions of false, planted, or paid testimonials will not transform hearts captive to sin.
Amazon.com product reviews now have a notation next to a review if the person actually bought the product being reviewed. It is fascinating to think a special note is needed for the truth. Forbes.com did an article in January revealing that Amazon has trust issues. Amazon has developed an avenue for trusted reviewers to share their stories. It is called Amazon Vine. Members of the vine receive free products as long as they promise to post reviews of at least 80% of the products they receive. I like the vine imagery for trusted reviews. Jesus told his followers about how vines and branches are connected, and we can only bear good fruit as we are connected to Jesus. I like that the Jesus’ vine existed before the Amazon vine.
As I prepare to preach on Ash Wednesday I have looked at these words from the prophet Joel and I have thought about how the LORD God does not desire us to be paid product endorsers,
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.- Joel 2:12-13
We are challenged in these words to come to the Lord with sorrowful hearts and discover that He is gracious and merciful and slow to anger. We do not need to be paid product endorsers of this good news because we actually are transformed by Jesus.
I have noticed that in commercials that utilize a testimonial format there will often be small print notifying us that the actors are not actual clients but paid actors. When you share the good news of Jesus Christ, will people need to look for the fine print at the bottom of the screen notifying them that you are only a paid actor?
There should be no small print in our lives expecting people to dismiss the truthfulness of our hope in Jesus Christ. In a world muddled with paid endorsements of false promises, I rejoice that the good news of Jesus Christ is an honest and free gift.